The good news of Jesus Christ is acultural and ahistorical (in relevance, not in inception).
It has challenged and molded cultures throughout history and all over the world. It continues to do the very same today. Teenagers are culturally bound (ie. they hold a worldview which is molded by the prevailing worldview around them) and historically situated. Being people who live within history somewhere on the earth, we surely believe that the teen can and should find in the gospel both relevance and personal resonance. How strange it is, then, that so often we raise our hands in resignation to the gospel scalpel bouncing off the teen Kevlar of unbelief. I wonder how much of this attitude in us says more about the generational gap between ‘us’ and ‘them’ (accentuated through Covid?) than it does about the gospel and the teen? Where does the teen Kevlar allow the gospel in? Perhaps more accurately, where is the gospel best designed to woo the teenager into the Kingdom?
Here’s a headline: in my experience, the average teen is not thinking through the big questions of existence and eternity. Their world of candy floss entertainment can anaesthetize against existential angst – at least for a while. Instead of the intellectual questions that past generation apologetics used to answer, we’re left with their morals. Social media encourages fundamentalist moral pharisaism, which amplifies a burning sense of right and wrong morality (“You can’t say that! You’re not welcome here! We’ve got to care about this!”) without a wider scaffold of anthropology or philosophy or – dare I say it – theology. The points of connection, therefore, between the gospel and teen are moral in essence, from which we need to work backwards to the God who defines the essence of ‘good’. In other words, no longer are we saying that legalism is bad. Rather, we’re seeking to endorse some moralistic mores of the day, demonstrating that they make sense only in light of the God of all grace.
Here’s a stab at some:
Creation care: it’s one thing to care for our physical world for our children’s children, but how much greater a driver is the belief that this is God’s world which is groaning with us (Rom 8:22)? Let me tell you why your sustainability passion is worth being passionate about.
Wellness movement: mindfulness, (often Eastern) meditation, balanced diet, exercise, community involvement, and the emphasis on personal discipline which all of this requires, have their roots patented in Christendom. Disciplines of silence, solitude, community, confession, sabbath, giving and communion all seem to have a counter-cultural appeal to the subversive teen. Let’s better enjoy and emulate the God of grace. Let’s distrust our compulsive impulses. Learn the power of self-denial for the sake of… Christ.
Equality, Diversity and Inclusion: cut off from community, often ashamed of family heritage, seeking to emulate the impossibly perfect influencers, teens are cut adrift from many of the anchors which held previous generations in personal security. ‘Who am I?’ There is a sense that it is safer to be/side with a minority group because then my lived experience becomes privileged and the E,D & I movement has my back. But why should the weak and marginalized be protected and given a voice? Why should those I may disagree with have their viewpoint amplified and heard? Because there is a Kingdom whose only qualification for membership is the recognition that I belong on the outside and want to come in. Because Christ’s Truth cannot be threatened by alternative views.
History and mystery: The enlightenment culture of most of our schools is reluctant to admit when we have hit the buffers of our knowledge. The paradox is that the more mastery we obtain, the smaller our world can appear and the more cynicism creeps in. Against such a backdrop it is refreshing to revel in the mysteries of eternity and the Trinitarian Godhead, for example. “I Cannot Tell” (W.Y. Fullerton) is one of my favourite hymns because it doesn’t suffer from intellectual overreach. In showcasing mystery and knowable truth, we enjoy intellectual honesty and a worldview which shrinks humanity to our proper place, and which magnifies YHWH to his. As we showcase the same in our schools, we invite the next generation into the intellectual humility of many millenia past; something which seems attractively solid and lasting against the flimflam of the present.
Revd. John Ash (Chaplain, Dean Close School)